Four Gen Z beauty creatives on getting back to business after lockdown

From beauty salon owners to nail technicians and hairstylists, we spoke to four resilient beauty professionals about bouncing back. Long live the salons

Gen Z beauty creatives: Four women who work in the beauty industry on why it's great to be back in business
(Image credit: Marie Claire UK)

From beauty salon owners to nail technicians and hairstylists, we spoke to four resilient beauty professionals about bouncing back. Long live the salons

Glow Up star Maya Jama kicks off our spring campaign, The Power Of Beauty, over at Marie Claire UK. Stay tuned throughout the month of May as we celebrate the transformative power of beauty and champion the industry we love.

Marie Claire has championed the transformative power of beauty ever since we launched in the UK over three decades ago. And if the pandemic, and the subsequent necessary lockdowns for more than a year, have shown us anything, it's that the beauty industry is truly an essential part of our lives, our communities and our beleaguered high stores. Thankfully, after so many repeated delays, salons and clinics have reopened across the country and we've been block-booking every treatment we've missed out on for months.

Oh, happy days! We don't care how long we have to kit up in PPE if it means our roots are done, nails manicured, bodies massaged, and everyone is safe so salons can remain open. However, our now busy salons, beauty entrepreneurs and Gen Z beauty creatives are not out of the woods yet. "Salons had to stay shut longer than pubs, restaurants and even gyms, making upholding rental fees particularly difficult," said Millie Kendall MBE, CEO of the British Beauty Council. “The beauty industry suffered the longest business closures. Now they've reopened, many businesses are running at 70% pre pandemic capacity.” Beauty and Style Director of Marie Claire Lisa Oxenham agrees, sharing some sobering stats. “Almost 5,000 salons have closed their doors for good. Despite the industry’s large economic contribution [£28 billion], there’s been no emergency funding made available.”

That's why earlier this year, Marie Claire backed Beauty on the Brink campaign, urging the government to help save our salons. A letter signed by a roster of respected beauty journalists was sent to Rishi Sunak. Marie Claire, along with Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Elle and Stylist are asking the government for a temporary VAT cut in line with the VAT cut hospitality industries were granted, and an emergency supplementary fund for hair and beauty businesses, too. We need to keep the pressure on the government, because for far too long the beauty industry has often been ignored and overlooked. This needs to change fast because of these facts.

* Beauty has a 88% female workforce (many of these are the sole providers in their families) * 82% of business owners are women * Beauty industry contributes £28 billion to the UK economy * Full time employment in beauty is down 21%on 2019 levels * Beauty has lost 10-20%of its workforce due to closures and redundancies

The British Beauty Council reported that around two-thirds of their members' salons have run out of cash reserves and are in debt, while half of business owners have been forced to use up their personal savings over the past few months. That's why it's more important than ever to support your independent beauty businesses and entrepreneurs.

They're open for business and we're here for them - from self-employed makeup artists, hairstylists, nail technicians, facialists to beauty entrepreneurs everywhere. We salute your resilience, your talents, skills and fortitude.

Meet the Gen Z beauty creatives

Lois Williamson is a 20-year-old salon owner of Si Belle Beauty, in Great Dunmow, Essex. One of our Gen Z beauty creatives, after only trading for just over a year, Lois was placed in three categories in the prestigious Hair & Beauty Awards 2021

Lockdown had a huge impact, but not in the way you think. There were tough times and I had no other choice but to find a way. I worked on improving my nail art techniques through online training and I taught others how to keep their business alive. I held social media masterclasses, ran fun nail art tutorials and how to master the perfect reel. All of this ensured I had a business to return to. My cash flow and plans were ruined but I went into lockdown as a one-woman band, and I came out with a larger salon, three staff members and a full-training academy in conjunction with KG Professional.

"I have always included self-care in my daily routine, it has helped me through many hard times. It makes a huge difference to how you feel about yourself"

Knowing I can help people with my beauty skills is so important to me. Just by having lashes applied or freshly manicured nails, it releases a form of confidence many of us keep deep inside. I always knew I wanted to work in the industry and make people fall in love with themselves again. This is the reason why Si Belle Beauty was born.

I find mindfulness and gratitude exercises incredible for my mental health. Reading personal affirmations every morning allows me to really understand where I want to get to in my career and life. It's also made me realise how it important it is to be happy with the life you have and be grateful for everything around you.

It's great to see my salon back in action, as well as other businesses. All the local salons came together during the pandemic - it's one positive thing to come out of this terrible time. We're now celebrating each other, working on collaborating rather than competing."

Ellie Smith, 25, is the style director of Smith England salon in Salisbury, co-owner of the Smith England haircare range and creative director of sister haircare range Phil Smith Be Gorgeous (sold in Sainsbury’s)

I loved visiting my parents at work when I was younger and I had a Saturday job there when I was 13. I liked the busy atmosphere and I’m a people person. I couldn’t see myself in a traditional 9-5 desk job. Hair and beauty is an outward change but I think the power it has to help people on the inside is huge. I see it everyday in the salon and I absolutely love that. Our team is like a family and the whole hairdressing industry is like your wider family. There’s such strength and support and sharing knowledge is a huge part of it too.

"Chatting people through how to style their hair on an Instagram Live or a pre-filmed video felt a bit closer to chatting to clients in real life"

For the past 10 years I watched my dad (Phil Smith) develop his product ranges which are now well established brands. Alongside working in the salon, I worked with his team in London creating hair products and growing the brand. Then the pandemic hit. I had no idea what was about to happen as we were plunged into lockdown (which we thought might be two weeks). We updated our websites so we could sell products more effectively online and the demand skyrocketed.

We created haircare goodie bags and delivered them to clients as a pick me up or those self isolating and generally became a support network. Sometimes it’s just the phone ringing, a knock at the door and a catch up that can make someone feel less isolated so it was an important job.

We have a salon Facebook group and while the team were on furlough it was great to use it and offer job security reassurance and answer questions. We met up for socially-distanced walks when allowed and generally kept each others spirits high. We're such good friends, sometimes lines between work and social can be a bit blurred but I think we struck a good balance. We’re so excited to be back in the salon now.

All of this in addition to having a newborn was tough. Baby groups and classes weren’t running so I couldn’t share the difficult experiences with other new mums. My partner, Adam, and my family were a huge support, helping with childcare when possible. I didn’t follow traditional working hours. When baby Henry slept in the afternoon, I filmed a tutorial for Instagram or packaged online orders. When I had a meeting with a team member, we made it a walking one so I could take Henry out too. Sleepless nights paired with work pressure felt overwhelming at times. I’m strong minded but it was a lot to deal with.

I feel like the pandemic has taught me the importance of looking at your life as a whole. Positive personal change impacts work life and vice versa. I think in the past people have looked at them as separate things and different successes but I’ve seen first hand the impact they have on each other.

Gen Z beauty creatives: a headshot of Lucy Doyle

Lucy Doyle, 25, is a beauty therapist and owner of Paint Hair & Beauty in Hale, Cheshire. Another of our Gen Z beauty creatives, during lockdown, Lucy took the plunge to launch a second salon 

At the beginning of lockdown I didn’t know if we could or would survive. It took weeks if not months for me to find the motivation and to make the decision to not let it beat us. The only way out I saw was to pivot and develop our brand. I spent lockdown doing refurbishments in the salon, ensuring our systems were all up to date and running smoothly. Last March I didn't know if I would have one business left, now I have two and a training academy. We have grown as a team from six to 15 and my goal is to open up right across the north west.

"After lockdown we had people in tears at how happy they were to be back. My team love their jobs, we genuinely enjoy what we do and are passionate about"

When I was younger I had acne, red hair and never felt confident. It wasn’t until I left school and went in to work that I found my confidence. I learnt that red hair was something people paid for and that skin can be fixed with the right help. When I was pregnant with my first little girl I found myself at home and pretty lonely, my husband was working away and I took the decision to do all my beauty training whilst I was pregnant. It was the best thing I ever did. It gave me focus and motivation to build a wonderful life for my children.

Having a three year old and being pregnant in lockdown 2020 was hard. I thought if I am sad or anxious then my babies will be so I had to keep my mind active and my body moving. For me, if the little things are organised I have the headspace to navigate the more complicated things. In October 2020 I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and she certainly kept me busy. Me and the girls at work were always in contact on WhatsApp and talking to each other. I made sure everyone felt as relaxed as possible coming back to work with policies and procedures in place so they all knew what we were doing.

We contribute so much to this country not just in the monetary sense but in the well-being sense. I hope people now realise this. At the start of lockdown the beauty industry was barely mentioned. The government thought we were there just to cut hair or paint nails, but now we are recognised in the 'Personal Care' sector, and with the help of the NHBF and BABTAC constantly fighting our corner, I do believe we are now being heard.

Daisy May Noel, 25, is a stylist at Blue Tit Clapton, a collective of individual lifestyle salons in London for the sustainably conscious

The last year has impacted my career massively. It has affected my development as a stylist and stopped me from achieving my goals in the time frame I had planned. Blue Tit is all about development and I had plans to increase my qualifications over the last year but because of the lockdowns and salons being closed, it’s hugely stunted my growth.

"I’m seeing more and more women wanting to leave their hair natural and it’s definitely a hugely growing trend"

As a Black woman I’m really looking forward to bringing in more diversity in textures and styles in the future. When I was little I remember being creative doing different styles on my dolls' heads. I love the hair industry because I love to make people happy and achieve my client’s goals. I have a ton of experience working with afro & mixed textured hair. I’m excited to experiment and create styles without having to press and straighten out hair.

In the first lockdown I spent a lot of time upskilling, learning different styles and techniques to better my knowledge. I’m always across the latest trends on Instagram. During that time I looked for alternative ways to keep myself occupied, such as doing my mum and little sister's hair on a regular basis.

I looked after my mental health by Facetiming friends, colleagues and family. I also followed online exercise classes and walked my dog regularly.

I'm more politically aware as the pandemic affected my finances, my career and my wellbeing. I’ve found myself following the news more than normal and taking notice of decisions made by politicians, which would affect my career. My hopes are that we can now sustain some form of normality. And no more lockdowns.

Maria Coole

Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.

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